Why do we cry? 10 causes of crying

A young child sat on an unmade bed crying

Crying can happen at the most inconvenient times, and sometimes tears take us by surprise. So, what is happy crying, and why do we cry when we are sad?

Crying is a biological mechanism for your body to get a release from an overwhelming emotion, whether this is hysterical laughter or intense sadness. It is also a signal to others that we might be in danger or distress and, hopefully, encourages them to offer help or affection when we need it the most.

Make crying easier to cope with by using some strong, soft tissues when you’re feeling fragile.

1. Crying with happiness

Let’s start on a positive note! Every once in a while, you’ll experience a happy emotion that prompts tears of joy. What causes crying with happiness? Well, it’s often linked to love and personal connection, for example at a wedding or the birth of a child.

2. Relief

This is slightly different from purely crying with happiness; often we will cry when we reach a point of contentment after a long stretch of stress or unhappiness. The emotional strain from this period surfaces as soon as the problem goes away, resulting in tears.

3. Stress

We’ve all had the horrible feeling of worries and tension that build up internally, whether from pressures at work, personal relationships or major life changes. The good news is that crying from stress gives us a release of this build up and can help us to think more clearly afterwards.

4. Exhaustion

Why do people cry at unexpected things when they’re tired? After a long day, we’re more vulnerable to strong emotions which trigger tears. So, when you get home from work at 9pm and a picture of puppy in socks has you sobbing, you’re not going nuts – you just need a rest!

5. Anger

Angry crying can happen at the most inconvenient moments: during arguments when you want to appear strong or when you’re trying to stay calm under pressure. What does crying do when you’re angry? Anger is linked to fear, and when we are in danger, crying brings others to our aid or persuades an aggressor that we are not a threat to them.

6. Physical pain

This is also an evolutionary feature. In the same way that babies cry to indicate that something is wrong, crying signals to everyone around us that we need help.

7. Hurt feelings

Though many of us find involuntary tears during an argument a little embarrassing, we shouldn’t! If a loved one has said or done something to make us feel betrayed, crying is an instant way of showing them that they need to take our distress seriously. Why do we cry when we are sad, if not to get a little help and sympathy?

8. Disappointment

Disappointment often comes from the same source of feelings of anger: a powerful emotion when our expectations are not met. This is a bitterly uncomfortable emotion, so it’s no wonder that we often express it through tears.

9. Sadness and loss

Crying is one of the best ways we can cope with feelings of sadness or loss. Although the causes of these emotions might not go away, expressing them can make you feel better in time. Witnessing tears also brings out empathy in others. This means that people who see that you’re crying will give you some much needed affection and support.

10. Empathy

Empathetic crying – sharing the feelings of another person – is bittersweet. Though the situation may be bad, feeling sad on the behalf of someone else is a wonderful part of human nature. It’s also a kind of empathy that makes us tear up at films.

Crying is normal, healthy and even biologically sensible – so whether you’re crying with happiness or frustration, grab a packet of tissues and don’t be embarrassed to let it out.

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